By Mike Anderson

York Regional Police and Mothers Against Drunk Driving want the public to report impaired boating on Lake Simcoe and its waterways.

On May 17, YRP, MADD Canada and York Region unveiled new signs on six regional and provincial road bridges, including the Queensway South bridge in Keswick, that boaters pass under to access the lake.

The signs encourage anyone to call 9-1-1 if they suspect someone is operating a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

According to Const. Todd Snooks, from the YRP’s Road Safety Bureau, telltale signs include high rates of speed, erratic handling, and not following basic boating rules.

“It’s the same as if they are on the road, making unsafe, erratic turns, and not following the rules – on the wrong side of the buoys, or if their lights aren’t on when they should be at dusk,” Const. Snooks said.

“It’s no different than reporting someone driving on the road that looks impaired.”

Const. Snooks says it’s vital that the public be proactive to save lives.

“If you see someone who’s been drinking or operating their boat in an unsafe manner, then a 9-1-1 call is appropriate because, like on the road, we consider it a life and death situation.”

He also says cottage owners must ensure their guests don’t operate a boat impaired.

“If you’re at home and you have friends over and one of them drank way too much, you take the keys away from them. You don’t let them leave the house and get in a car,” he said.

“Same thing here; If you’re at the cottage, and one or two of the guys or gals have drunk too much that weekend, and you’re going out on a boat, make sure the one driving hasn’t been drinking.”

“And if someone’s going to leave the cottage to go back to their cottage, you take their keys. It’s no different. We need to make sure the waterways are safe for everybody.”

9-1-1 sign on Queensway S. bridge over the Maskinonge River.

The 9-1-1 sign unveiling marks the start of Safe Boating Awareness Week (May 18-24), as YRP and MADD want to remind boaters that the penalties for impaired boating, considered a criminal offence, are the same as drinking and driving.

“We’re trying to get the message out not to operate your water vehicle impaired,” said Kathy Mitchell, treasurer and past president of MADD York Region.

“Hopefully, a boat owner goes out underneath this bridge and sees the sign, and it clicks in their brain. I shouldn’t have a couple and operate. I should wait until I’m on the pier and have a beer there.”

“We also want to encourage people, if you see somebody operating a boat or water vessel impaired, to make that call and potentially save a life.”

Both Const. Snooks and Mitchell stress that impaired boating is the same as impaired driving and carries the same penalties, including the suspension of your driver’s license.

“Any vehicle where a person is driving and they’re impaired, the fine, license suspension, or criminal charges are the same,” Const. Snooks said.

“If you are operating any motor vehicle, whether it’s a car or boat, and you’re impaired, you’re not operating it properly or safely,” Mitchell added.

The YRP’s Marine Unit, based in Jackson’s Point, assisted by South Simcoe Police, will conduct vessel checks throughout the summer, focusing enforcement efforts on boaters who feel it’s acceptable to consume alcohol while operating a boat.

They will also conduct vessel checks to ensure boats have the necessary safety equipment onboard and all operators have their mandatory Pleasure Craft Operators Card (PCOC).

According to YRP, the Marine Unit conducted 180 traffic stops on boaters in 2023.

While the majority of interactions were educational, officers laid 30 charges specific to water-related offences during last year’s
boating season.

Although there were no fatalities on Lake Simcoe in 2023, two incidents involved minor injuries. However, none of these incidents resulted from impaired boating.

Still, the recent fatal boating accident on Bob’s Lake, near Kingston, which claimed the lives of three people after a speed boat collided with a fishing boat, underscores the need to be vigilant on the water.

“Bob’s Lake is a clear example of the tragedies we wish to avoid through safe boating practices,” Const. Snooks told the Post.

He reminds boaters to follow safe boating practices this summer:

  • Ensure you can relay your exact location to emergency responders if needed. Consider installing the What3Words app and familiarize yourself with the GPS on your phone.
  • Remember weather conditions can change quickly on and around Lake Simcoe. Be prepared for dropping temperatures and high winds.
  • Wear a properly-fitted life jacket on the water.
  • Carry a cell phone in a waterproof container.
  • Plan your route. Tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to be back.
  • Never boat or drive recreational vehicles impaired.

For more information on safe boating, visit the Canadian Safe Boating Council’s website,



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